Congress can't seem to come up with anything to stop the rising flow of drugs into the U.S., so it has resorted to meaningless political gestures that sound tough.
A House committee voted recently to cut about $30 million from U.S. aid to Bolivia, Paraguay, and Peru for not doing enough to stop drug trafficking. Like similar action by the Senate last week against Mexico, this amounts to sound and fury, but little substance.To illustrate how useless this really is, the committee backed away from endorsing the Senate action against Mexico, thus ensuring that nothing will happen by the May 13 deadline for cutting aid.
The basic problem is not so much drug smuggling as it is the enormous market for drugs in America. A panel of experts from the U.S., Canada, and Latin America put their fingers on the problem this week with a report saying that attention must be shifted to demand instead of supply.
As long as the profit margin in cocaine is 12,000 percent from production to street sale, trafficking in drugs will continue. Experience has shown that destroying sources of supply mean only that the source is moved - to another area, another country, or even another continent.
The huge profits allow drug kinds in Latin America to buy all the protection they need. Even governments are helpless.
This doesn't mean the battle against smuggling should be abandoned; interdiction must continue. But more needs to be done domestically, including putting drug dealers behind bars instead of turning them loose after repeated arrests because the jails are full. This revolving door doesn't discourage anybody from dealing drugs.
Two good suggestions have come from former President Richard Nixon, who said recently that the U.S. needs a "drug czar" with enough authority to "knock heads" and get the best use out of all the different drug-fighting agencies.
More than a dozen agencies deal with drug trafficking, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, Border Patrol, Customs Service, Coast Guard, plus various offices in Justice, Treasury, and other departments. Too much effort is wasted in rivalries and turf battles.
In addition, he said military forces could be used more than they are. In some ways, a drug invasion is as much a threat to the country as any other invasion and needs to be repelled in the same way.
These ideas, ought to be tried; not much else has worked. Perhaps it's time to take more drastic steps. This is a war the United States is losing.